The Cry For Liberty That Echoes For the Ages


Patrick Henry 1736-1799

On This Date in History:  When one visits Colonial Williamsburg, a popular and common person you find wandering the streets is Patrick Henry.  Henry was born on May 29, 1736 in Hanover County in the Virginia Colony.   He was home-schooled and later studied the law on his own.   One of the homes that is prominent at Colonial Williamsburg is that of the Randolph family and Patrick Henry took his attorney’s examination before several prominent lawyers including John and Peyton Randolph

Henry Delivers His "Treason Speech"

Henry was a firey orator and was an early advocate of protest against what he saw as unjust oppression by the Court of King George III.  In 1763, he proclaimed that if a king vetoed a local law voted on by a local assembly, then that king was no longer the people’s patriarch, but instead was  “a tyrant who forfeits the allegiance of his subjects.”  When he brought his protest of the Stamp Act to the House of Burgesses on May 30, 1765 his arguments are said to have bordered on treason.  When he called out, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third…” calls of treason rang from the gallery but Henry merely continued with his rant to the point that his argument won over the rest of the burgesses.  This is known as the “Treason Speech.”

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Words can be powerful weapons but left on their own, they are simply words.  Those words can call for action though and when the call for action is a call to arms, then those words take on a different meaning altogether.  On this date in 1775, not only did Henry issue a appeal to arms, but also an appeal to the Almighty.  Patrick Henry’s speech read in part, ” There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free–if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”  When we hear that the founders intended on a separation of church and state, clearly if that was the case they did not intend for individuals to be separated from God because in the 6 paragraphs of Henry’s speech, he mentions or calls on God 5 times.  In fact, the most famous line of Patrick Henry that is well known to most Americans was preceded by his final call for Divine intervention:  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Nearly Every Painting of Henry Giving a Speech Shows Him with his Arm Raised

While Patrick Henry is closely associated with Williamsburg, his call to “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” was made at St. John’s Church in Richmond.  Apparently, Henry’s theatrics were so overwhelming that the exact verbiage of his speeches were lost on the listener.  Perhaps that is why the text of Henry’s speech was not published until 1816 and that was done after William Wirt pieced the speech together after interviewing numerous people who had witnessed the event first hand.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to say for certain that all of the words are exactly what Henry said or if there were ommissions.  One thing that is for certain, the conclusion was unforgettable and “give me liberty or give me death” has lasted through the decades and will no doubt continue to do so.  According to Charles Cohen, Thomas Jefferson was impressed with Henry, but also had a difficult time recalling exactly what the emotional orator had said.  “Although it was difficult, when [Henry] had spoken, to tell what he had said, yet, while speaking, it always seemed directly to the point. When he had spoken in opposition to my opinion, had produced a great effect, and I myself had been highly delighted and moved, I have asked myself, when he ceased, ‘What the devil has he said?’ and could never answer the inquiry.”

Patrick Henry's Speech Helped Spur the Call To Arms

So, what’s the big deal about this speech? I mean, after all, Henry had been making lots of imflammatory speeches.  One has to consider that the Boston Massacre had taken place in March 1770 which had followed the 1765 Stamp Act Crisis.  Then came the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  After all of these events, colonists had tried to reason with the British Parliament and the King.  The crown thought that the colonists were being unreasonable and just plain difficult. Still, the talk of revolution was not all that prevalent.  Then, in 1774, the first Continental Congress  ,led by first Continental Congress President Peyton Randolph, met and determined that crackdowns going on in the Massachusetts Colony represented a threat to the liberty of all the colonies.  The Continental Congress called on continued resistance to the Coercive Acts, a general boycott of British goods and for the establishment of colonial militias.  Naturally, when Parliament heard of this, especially the notion of raising an army of sorts, it declared that the American colonies in rebellion in February 1775.  Massachusetts had worked taking up arms but no other colony acted.  When Patrick Henry made his speech(video of re-enactment) in Richmond, it was at a convention to consider the issue.  When Henry finished, the room sat silent as the audience may have reacted as Thomas Jefferson had described and so they had to take a moment to understand what had been said.  Slowly, it sank in and the room filled with shouts of approval.  The delegates voted to make military preparations and that set the stage for the American Revolution.  It was one thing for the rabble rousers in Boston to take up arms.   But when the Virginia colony made the move it signaled to the others that there was no turning back and it was Patrick Henry who served as the catalyst.

Weather Bottom Line:  Chilly start Tuesday morning led to a seaonally mild afternoon with highs in the low 60’s.   I betcha we get to the upper 60’s on Wednesday.  Clouds will be increasing but it will still be a great day.  Thursday a storm system passes us to the South and will bring a pretty good chance for rain with some t’storms but I think the strongest storms will be well South.  We get a pokey front coming in from the north around the same time so clouds and showers on Friday will be around with Saturday improving and not too cool before another front messes up Sunday a little.   I”m lazy..have an exam to make up for my students and it’s pretty boring so I’m not telling anything more..that’s all you need to know.

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